SEA ISLE CITY — More than a decade ago, shortly after the city changed to its current mayor-council form of government, Mayor Len Desiderio warned of tough times ahead.
In January 2008, Desiderio faced a budget increase of more than $1 million and a new state levy cap. This year, he’s recommending a decrease in spending and in the municipal tax rate.
“Our surplus position was as weak as it’s ever been, and we were in the beginning of what is now known as the Great Recession in the United States,” Desiderio said in his state of the city message this year, presented to City Council on Feb. 13. “We’ve come a long way since then.”
According to Desiderio, Sea Isle City starts the year with an available surplus of more than $5.6 million, which is $5 million better than a decade ago.
His administration has proposed a $24.6 million budget for 2019, to include a half-penny decrease in the local purpose tax rate per $100 of assessment.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Paula Doll, Sea Isle City’s chief financial officer.
This year’s proposed tax rate is 38 cents per $100 of assessed value, which would mean if City Council approves the budget as proposed the municipal taxes on a $600,000 house would be $2,280, down slightly from the year before. That number does not include school or county taxes.
In his budget message, Desiderio committed to keeping taxes steady for 2020. There was no increase last year, either. He said the proposed budget maintains city services, and the city is in its best financial position ever.
Council is expected to introduce the budget at its 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, meeting at City Hall, 233 John F. Kennedy Blvd. If introduced then, the budget still faces a public hearing before a final vote.
In his budget message this year, Desiderio praised Sea Isle’s progress over the past 10 years, particularly on infrastructure. He said the city is in the midst of the most ambitious street paving program it’s ever taken on, paving 60 blocks of streets and replacing old water and sewer lines.
He also pointed to the raised Sea Isle Boulevard connecting the island town to the mainland, which now has both lanes open, and said work on the Townsend Inlet Bridge connecting the south end of the island to Avalon is on schedule, with the aging bridge set to reopen by Memorial Day weekend.
“The county continues to move toward a total bridge replacement project that we are hopeful will be able to be under construction within the next five years,” said Desiderio, who also serves as a county freeholder. “It is part of a comprehensive program that combines county, state and federal dollars to rehabilitate or replace bridges throughout Cape May County.”
Desiderio described flooding as the city’s highest infrastructure priority. A new pump station at 38th Street is expected to be operational this spring. Sea Isle recently completed a citywide flooding analysis, with plans to implement the recommended projects over the next several years.
Once on the brink of being disqualified from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s community rating system, Sea Isle City currently has the best rating in the state, the only New Jersey community with a class 3 rating. That translates to a 35 percent discount for city homeowners on flood insurance premiums.
For the coming year, Desiderio said residents and visitors will see a new fishing pier, gazebo and kayak launch next to Dealy Field near the hockey courts, a $1 million project funded through the Cape May County open space program.
He also promised decorative lighting and a speaker system for the Promenade.
Also in 2019, Desiderio reported, the city is set for a new round of beach replenishment under a long-term commitment from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“While our beaches are in good shape, we will need replenishment, especially along the beaches fronting the promenade and in the far southern end of the island,” Desiderio said.
For the city’s water and sewer utility, Desiderio said, there will be no rate increase, which he said was the sixth year in a row, with a promise to hold the rates steady in 2020 as well.
“The administration has done everything that we believe is logical and prudent to reduce costs, yet provide for the core mission of local government — a clean city; a safe city; a well-maintained and enjoyable city; and a city that achieves satisfaction for our residents and visitors, and the protection and maintenance of our public assets, infrastructure, and community culture and values, with the utmost degree of honor and professionalism,” Desiderio said in his prepared budget message.